Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Eoligarry revisited

Picture credit - Calum I MacLean

Back in 2010 (though it seems like yesterday!), I wrote a post about Eoligarry House on Barra. This was the incongrously large Georgian house pictured above built about 1790 and demolished in the 1970s which was briefly the residence of the MacNeils of Barra between when they vacated Kisimul Castle and when they sold the island in 1838. The house and surrounding farm were later sold to two brothers called MacGillivray around 1900 (their father having been the tenant since the 1840s) and they retained the house when the farm was acquired by the Board of Agriculture for Scotland in 1919 to be divided into crofts.

My reason for revisiting Eoligarry is that today I came across a description of it in the late 1930s in a book called "Hebridean Journey" by Halliday Sutherland available at

At Eoligary are the ruins of an ancient chapel and an old burial ground, but near by was Eoligary House, a bleak, square building whose owner was the last of his race and the house the last of his possessions. His collection of stuffed birds had caused me to knock on the door, and the knocking echoed as it might have echoed from an empty house. The day was  warm and sunny, but as l stood on the doorstep I remembered the phantom listeners in Walter de la Mare’s poem:

“Hearkening in an air stilled and shaken
By the lonely traveller's call."

Soft shuffling steps answered my knocking, and an old bent woman let me in to a carpetless hall walled with cases of stuffed birds, and then into what once had been a dining-room. There was a mahogany table, chairs, a bare side-board, and stuffed birds in glass cases on the walls were the only decorations. There was no carpet in the room, and it must have been years since a fire had been lit in the empty grate, or windows had been opened, because the room smelt of mildew, damp, and dust. At last the owner of the house appeared, a tall, pallid, gaunt old man, who gave me a chair and drew one from the table for himself. I mentioned the stuffed birds, but in them he was no longer interested, because after his brother's death the best specimens had been given to the museum at Inverness. He talked incessantly of people and of times I had never known, and was petulant when I revealed my ignorance. His grievance was that no one ever came to see him, but from what I heard from the postman neither he nor his forebears had ever sought friendship in the days of their manhood. For one thing only was I grateful, namely that he neither offered me food nor drink in that house, and at the end of half an hour I rose and declared that I must leave him lest the postman returned without me. The old man asked me to call again, but as I left his decaying abode I knew that I would never return.

The old man who owned the house would have been the surviving MacGillivray brother. He died in 1939, very soon after his visit from Halliday Sutherland.

Eoligarry House in a cameo role in a film about Barra on the Moving Image Archive (at 8.32 and 8.44)

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